On Tuesday (29th April) night I did something I never thought I would ever do, and most certainly am in no hurry to repeat again... I attended my first UKIP meeting!
OK, so let's get this clear right now: I'm biased. I believe that if we left the EU to fend for ourselves, we would soon be left isolated on the world stage by the bigger countries and trading blocks, who will offer the same or similar products we do but at a cheaper cost. I believe that in order to deal with climate change, international crime and terrorism and for our overall economic prosperity we need to remain in the EU. I believe that the EU has helped bring peace to a continent that had almost constantly been at war. So it was with a degree of anxiety that I approached the Forum in Bath and joined the queue.
As we were about to enter, the first person I bumped in to was Jon Pienaar, BBC Radio 5 Live's Chief Political Correspondent. His first reaction was: "What are you doing here?!?" Thanks Jon, nice to see you again too! Next I saw BBC Points West political editor Paul Barltrop getting footage of the crowds for his report. He told me he had seen a few Lib a Dem infiltrators in the crowd from both Bath & Bristol (although there wasn't a yellow tie in sight!)
The first thing I have to say, is that the hall was full and the mood was jubilant. I did get a thousand yard stare from some menacing looking guy who I seemed to have offended somehow (maybe he had a sixth sense enabling him to smell Liberals), but apart from that, everyone was in good spirits. There were some pretty awful speeches (one which included a joke from the chairman that even to the ‘warm’ audience sank like a lead balloon) before Mr. Farage took to the stage. As someone who has many times spoken from the stage to large audiences, I like to study others who do it well to see if I can pick up any tips, and to be fair, Mr. Farage is a good speaker. He has good stage presence, he has some good clap lines and he delivers them well. What I will say however is that what comes out of his mouth is iconoclastic, jingoistic nonsense. He calls anything that might resemble scrutiny an establishment conspiracy and he dismisses anything that might resemble a criticism as unfair intrusion. He does a very good job of projecting an image that portrays both himself and his party as victims of a witch-hunt carried out by those mean people ("the establishment") who have the temerity to disagree with him. The most hilarious (if it wasn’t so worrying) part for me was when he even had the audacity to claim that UKIP was a diverse party, citing the example of a rabbi and a Muslim standing as UKIP council candidates! In fact the chairman went to great pains to say they were not a racist party and everyone cheered when he bellowed: “If you’re a racist, LEAVE NOW!” Farage went on to highight a Lib Dem who has recently been convicted of a racially aggravated assault as an example of double standards in reporting. Interesting that he didn’t mention his hero being Enoch Powell and the sheer volume of convicted racists and fascists flocking to the UKIP banner.
What really struck me the most was how much he appeals to the most based level in politics: fear. If you believe Mr. Farage there is a marching army of migrants from former eastern European countries on their way here right now hell bent on stealing our jobs or worse - claiming our benefits. The exaggerations, the fabrications and half-truths he comes up with are frightening in both their volume and the fact that people believe them. The meeting demonstrated to me just how dangerous Mr. Farage and UKIP actually are. They risk causing an incalculable amount of damage to our country and as a Liberal I believe it is my duty to fight for the truth regardless of how unpopular or unfashionable it is do so. I also think it's my obligation as a Liberal Democrat to fight against conformity born out of ignorance hence why I attended the meeting in the first place so that I can see firsthand the scale of the task ahead and learn from firsthand experience exactly what is required to counter some of the nonsense espoused by Mr. Farage and his fellow UKIP members.